Less poor, less sexy

The federal capital would like to be the leading European metropolis. But a study shows that there is still a long way to go.

Gloomy prospects: The Brandenburg Gate in December rain

SIt was eighteen years ago when Klaus Wowereit started the sentence that Berlin was poor but sexy. The then governing mayor of the SPD was very praiseworthy, but over the years it has become the motto for Berlin’s many weaknesses. The capital is trying with all its might to get rid of this reputation – quite successfully in some areas, but not at all in others, as a new study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) shows.

The good news first: at least Berlin’s attraction for talent is impressive, according to economic researchers. In comparison with 15 other European capitals, Berlin ranks fourth in this regard, according to the paper presented on Friday. In other categories – technology, sustainability, mobility, tolerance, participation and life satisfaction – Berlin is not in the top group that cities like Stockholm, London and Amsterdam make. But Berlin has at least caught up compared to ten years ago. However, it gets bitter when it comes to the efficiency of public administration. Berlin is almost at the bottom of the list. Only in the Italian capital, Rome, are the authorities even more sluggish.

In Berlin, for example, it has been almost impossible for years in some districts to get an appointment at the registry office. If you want to get married or need a birth certificate for your offspring, you can move your place of residence to friends or relatives in other districts in order to get the necessary papers. In Berlin-Kreuzberg, parents are taking to the streets these days because a primary school has been closed due to fire protection deficiencies since December 2012. Since then, the classes in the neighboring building have been learning in their after-school care room – probably until 2024.

“A big city will never be a pony farm”

Elsewhere, however, the districts are very busy, for example when sales areas are marked on the ground for drug dealers in Görlitzer Park or a bicycle path is meticulously zigzagged around the trees on the roadside. Meanwhile, the transport company BVG tries to take the congested local public transport with humor and paints “Dear Swabians, we are happy to take you to the airport” on their buses.

Finance Senator Matthias Kollatz (SPD) preferred not to go into all of these shortcomings during the presentation of the study in Berlin on Friday. Instead, he outlined his vision of Berlin in 2030, in which two-thirds of the population would do office work electronically, drive through the city with a 365-euro ticket for local public transport and, thanks to the rent cap, everyone could afford an “albeit modest” apartment can. “A big city will never be a pony farm,” said Kollatz. “But a big city doesn’t necessarily have to be a juggernaut.”

For years, Berlin has been by far the largest net recipient in the state financial equalization system and the only European capital that is not economically pulling its country up, but down. In 2018, the gross domestic product per capita was 97.2 percent of the national average. It is true that Senator for Economic Affairs Ramona Pop (Greens) recently announced that the economy grew by 3.1 percent, more than in any other federal state. And Siemens wants to invest 600 million euros in an innovation campus in Berlin, the European factory of the American electric car manufacturer Tesla is to be built in front of the city. But growth is not desirable everywhere. In the Friedrichshain district, residents are currently defending themselves against a planned high-rise that the online retailer Amazon wants to move into. Well-paid technology specialists, so the concern, could drive rents up further.

According to Martin Gornig, Research Director Industrial Policy at DIW, the red-red-green Berlin state government should take Scandinavia as an example. “They are better able to turn technology into productivity,” he said. In terms of public administration, London has caught up a lot – because politics there not only ask citizens about their wishes, but also implement them. On the other hand, Finance Senator Kollatz does not consider it a desirable goal to make a copy of London out of Berlin. His guideline for the future: Instead of “poor, but sexy”, Berlin should now become “normal, cosmopolitan and sexy”.